The neuronal refractory period causes a short-term peak in the autocorrelation function

Izhar Bar-Gad*, Ya’acov Ritov, Hagai Bergman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


Autocorrelation functions are a major tool for the understanding of single-cell firing patterns. Short-term peaks in autocorrelation functions have previously been interpreted as a tendency towards bursting activity or elevated probability to emit spikes in a short time-scale. These peaks can actually be a result of the firing of a neuron with a refractory period followed by a period of constant firing probability. Analytic studies and simulations of such neurons replicate the autocorrelation functions of real-world neurons. The relative size of the peak increases with the refractory period and with the firing rate of the cell. This phenomenon is therefore more notable in areas such as the globus pallidus and cerebellum and less clear in the cerebral cortex. We describe here a compensation factor that can be calculated from the neuron’s hazard function. This factor can be removed from the original autocorrelation function to reveal the underlying firing pattern of the cell.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)155-163
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Neuroscience Methods
Issue number2
StatePublished - 15 Jan 2001

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was supported in part by the Israeli Academy of Science, AFIRST and the US–Israel Bi-national Science Foundation. We thank Moshe Abeles, Opher Donchin and Genela Morris for their critical reading and helpful suggestions. We thank Thomas Wichmann, Gali Havazelet-Heimer, Joshua A. Goldberg and Sharon Maraton for sharing their data with us.


  • Basal ganglia
  • Bursts
  • Firing pattern
  • Globus pallidus
  • Hazard function


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